MustReadClassicsBookshelfIt happens to the best of us.  As copywriters, marketers, and entrepreneurs we get waylaid by our own best intentions, by our efforts at learning more about our craft, keeping up with all the must-read posts, magazine articles, and business books, and so on.

The end result: a reading diet way too rich on mediocre prose and way too low on first-rate fiction and poetry. Think about the last 10 books you’ve read and tell me that’s not the case.

And, in general, as you read, so shall you write. Garbage In, Garbage Out. So here’s my vitamin-enhanced fiction-reading commitment for next year:

  • one short story, OR
  • one chapter from a novel, OR
  • At least one poem, OR
  • A chapter from the Bible, OR
  • One first-rate play or screenplay

I’ll read at least that much fiction each day, every day.

As far as New Year’s resolutions go, I think this one is probably one of the most pleasant I’ve ever made, and will very likely turn out to be one of the most effectively life-improving as well. I hereby recommend it to you.

Anyone else make a writing-specific resolution this New Year’s?


  1. Daphne Gray-Grant on 01.01.2010

    I agree that good reading is essential to good writing. I usually read at least a book a week (less during super busy times of work, much more during holidays) and I find it keeps me going — and sustains my writing. I’ve intermittently kept a book “journal” over the years, recording what I’ve read and scribbling some notes about it. My new year’s resolution is to do that more faithfully!

  2. Ken Brand on 01.01.2010

    Happy New Year Jeff,

    I wanted to share with you that I enjoy and BENEFIT immensely from your shared thoughts on writing, communication, persuasion, etc. It’s super helpful, practical and useful.

    And last, I wanted to thank you for helping me evolve as a better writer. What you’ve taught me has had a profound impact on everything I write. I’m a grateful student.

    Cheers, all the best and THANK YOU.

    .-= Ken Brand´s last blog ..The More You Know, The More Valuable You Are – Grow Your Knowledge, Hone Your Skills, Perfect Your Presentation and Amplify The Shiny Quality Of Your Personal Services. =-.

  3. Mike Garner on 01.02.2010

    Books by the excellent brand writer John Simmons always include reading lists. Books include anything by Dickens, Paul Auster and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Tightly written books are always good practice for tightly written copy.

  4. Marko Saric on 01.02.2010

    I love it! Garbage in and garbage out! Going offline for a bit and picking up a great book is a great way to get inspired, improve your writing and differentiate yourself from the way everyone else writes online.

    Happy new year!
    .-= Marko Saric´s last blog ..36 blogging articles you loved the most in 2009 =-.

  5. You Are What You Read - on 01.02.2010

    […] the same could be said about writing. What comes in would also influence what comes out. The better the things that you read, the better you’re able to write. Think of it this way: the material you read would ultimately influence your ideas, your writing […]

  6. Debbie Ferm on 01.02.2010

    Hi, this is my first time here. I love the site.

    Great advice. I don’t personally have to make any reading goals. I read so much that I have to make goals to get the other things done! Sometimes my goal for the day is to NOT read anything:) Kind of hard considering I’m a reading teacher.

    GIGO was the first thing I ever learned about computers way back in the olden days. That and binary code. Oy.

  7. LadyBird on 01.02.2010

    hello and this is my first time here too. 🙂

    i’ve no specific resolution so far but after bumped into your site, it has changed my mind. now, i think im more focus in my writing after getting some tips here. thank you. 🙂

  8. Ross Mitton on 01.02.2010

    Aw, must I? In my teens I read 3 novels and at least 1 text each week.
    I midlife I read a text book each day to pass a degree course.
    Now I read only onscreen, including Tweets, blogs, and video.

    Yes, I am making the Scout Sign. I promise this year to read 1 classic, 1 text in my area, and 2 novels. Maybe you can turn me around 😉

  9. Jeff on 01.02.2010

    Thank you all for your very kind (and interesting) comments. Since this post has gained some traction, I thought I’d throw in a few helpful tools:

    First, there’s Sonnet-A-Day, an e-mail service that sends one of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to your in box each day.

    Second, there’s Today In Literature. You have to pay to gain access to the archives but every day’s article is free on that day. It’s not literature, but it’s great motivation for reading more literature.

    And believe it or not, there’s also a twitter account that tweets the psalms one verse at a time.

    All good ways to ensure you get a Flinstones Vitamin’s worth of the good stuff each day.

    – Jeff

  10. Jeff on 01.02.2010


    Whatever you read, I’d say pick stuff you find enjoyable. No sense in slogging through a classic just because… I’m currently reading some Steven King short stories and loving them.

    And try reading from a writer’s point of view. If you find a particularly moving passage, deconstruct it. Try to figure out what makes it tick.

    Finally, here’s some science behind the advice, just to give you a little persuasive encouragement:

    – Jeff

  11. Shane Arthur on 01.02.2010

    I’ve resolved to read different books each night I got to bed instead of turning on the television. I can watch tv and go to sleep as I normally do, but I have to crack the book open first. I don’t care if I only read one word, the books come first.

    For me it will be fiction and song lyrics. I’ve never been a fan of “Dummy” books but the songwriting for dummies blew me away, and still does after several reads. So, I’ll going to try and conquer the elusive song, and some fiction, and some books on persuasion and direct response.

    This is my goal.
    I predict 2010 will be a good year for you Jeff. You seem to be making friends rather quickly.

    Rock on,
    .-= Shane Arthur´s last blog ..shanearthur: @soniasimone due to your recent Creative Copy Challenge submission, you are my #ff2009 (follow for 2009) ! =-.

  12. Andre White on 01.03.2010

    Although I’m allergic to New Year’s Resolutions, a symptom my HMO doesn’t cover, I felt you made a poignant suggestion.
    As a programmer, I ingest reams of technical information, forum posts and blogs that would reduce the most constant literary professional to a crayon scribbling bibliophobe. Finding an actual book to read for pleasure and enrichment is akin to taking a much needed drive though the country and remembering that your car can be more than just a means of menial travel to work.
    I’ll certainly attempt to include a bit more ‘Pride and Prejudice’ betwixt my RFC specifications and ‘How to dismantle an external USB drive’.
    Ironically, I was shifting some old boxes and found a copy of ‘King Lear’ this morning. Perhaps its a sign.
    .-= Andre White´s last blog ..Top 10 Signs you have a Twitter Stalker =-.

  13. Jeff on 01.03.2010


    Thanks for the comment and sorry to hear of your professional reading load. It’s a challenge for sure. I think the smart move is to take the vitamin approach: you know your diet probably isn’t as healthy as it could be, but the vitamins help to make up for some of the difference – or at least keep the damage to a minimum.

    Heck, I used to keep a copy of Pascal’s Pensee’s in my bathroom. That’s one can’t-miss way to sneak in a bit o’ quality nutrients into your reading diet ; )

    – Jeff

  14. Lorraine on 01.04.2010

    I love this post.

    If made New Year’s resolutions–I know myself too well to do so–this would be at the top of my list.

    From childhood I’ve read good literature avidly–sometimes five solid books a week as a young adult. It’s disheartening to accept that I’ve been on a virtual fiction fast for years now.

    But your post gives me new impetus. I love your list with its suggestions of manageable, regular reading. Busy as I am, I CAN manage a chapter a day of challenging fiction, revisit Tennessee Williams or Chekov or pick up King James (for beautiful language) or New Jerusalem (for great exegesis).

    For an online resource for the psalms and liturgical readings, you might want to check out Universalis.They list morning, evening and night Daily Office readings in a handy format.

  15. Jeff on 01.04.2010


    Thanks so much for the link! What a cool service. And thanks for the comment. Reading good fiction/literature is something I struggle with too, and I find these kind of automated services and bite-sized portions help a lot.

    – Jeff

  16. Copywriters’ Ultimate Game-Changing Productivity Guide: Optimize Your Life in Just 18 Hours a Day | MarketCopywriter Blog on 03.01.2010

    […] Read serious literature. After nibbling blogospehric fast food, your mind craves substantial fare. Feed it with poetry, plays, novels and other serious literature, suggests Jeff Sexton in one of my favorite posts. […]

  17. Ad Writing Adrenaline — The Daily Blur | Tim Miles, Wizard of Ads | on 03.03.2010

    […] Oh, and P.S. – Good writing gets much easier when you commit – really commit – to good reading. […]

  18. paul wolfe on 03.20.2011

    Hey Jeff

    Great post – just found you via your latest Copyblogger guest post. Digging into the site and digging it.

    The SF Author and Writing Teacher Steven Barnes recommends that you read between 10 and 50 times the amount that you write daily. Just to keep your ‘well charged.’ It’s something I started doing about a month ago – very interesting process.

    If you have lots of driving or other dead time in your daily life you can also consume this kind of writing via audio. There are some great books available on audio book – both fiction and non-fiction.

    My current favourite audio book is Steven Pressfield’s WAR OF ART – read by Pressfield himself. It’s rocking.

    I’ll be following and reading through your posts for a while – really liking what i see. Keep on keeping on.


    PS – your ‘CommentLuv’ plugin needs updating!